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Inside SC’s Alphabet Soup Government

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Our founding editor vented his spleen earlier this week on the latest alleged horse-trading aimed at stifling long-overdue government reform in South Carolina.

But beyond whatever backroom deal S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley has cut with powerful Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, what other “de-structuring” schemes are taking place in our state capitol?

Glad you asked …

Specifically, we’ve uncovered a little-noticed provision in the latest Department of Administration proposals that would move the federally-funded State Energy Office (SEO) from the S.C. Budget and Control Board to the state’s Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS).

Alphabet soup, right? Who cares …

Wrong. If you think the Budget and Control Board lacks accountability, you ought to take a look at ORS – which is responsible for overseeing tens of billions of dollars that South Carolina citizens pay to government-guaranteed monopolies. While the state’s Public Service Commission approves rate hikes and such, virtually everything else is negotiated in secret by ORS in a kind of “settling out of court” process.

Who does ORS report to? That’s a good question.

Oversight of this agency is provided by a little-known entity called the Public Utilities Regulatory Committee (PURC), which is appointed by the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Senate (and serviced by Senator Glenn McConnell’s Judiciary Committee staff).

Not familiar with PURC? You’re not alone. All we can say is the agency is the very embodiment of the “legislative tyranny” written about so eloquently by S.C. Sen. Tom Davis.

Who calls its shots?

That would be C. Dukes Scott and his long-time behind-the-scenes colleague, Mike Couick, the former Staff Director of Senate Judiciary who now heads the electric cooperative association (and who is the guy who claims to give U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham all of his energy ideas).

And yes, they are already working hard to ingratiate themselves with the Haley administration, too.

So to recap (get ready for a tongue-twister), in the debate to move the SEO from the B&CB to the ORS (and away from the new DOA), the PURC is scheming with the coops make sure this immensely powerful agency stays in legislative hands.

And yes … that’s quite a mouthful, we know.

If you are confused, you should be. Seriously … this is why our state government is so a) wasteful, b) dysfunctional and c) unaccountable.

But what is the reason for this provision? What has the PURC Energy Advisory Council has been doing over the last year? More importantly, who is designating its membership, planning its agendas and determining its outcomes behind the scenes?

Stay tuned for more on that …

The State Energy Office gambit, designed to funnel federal energy conservation funds to the electric cooperatives, is actually small potatoes in the big picture of the totally non-accountable ORS.

Meaningful restructuring resulting in accountability and transparency would bring ORS into the sunlight – which is vitally important seeing as this agency control four times as much citizens’ money as the state has in general fund revenues.

The easy (and correct) answer?

Move this agency into the governor’s Cabinet so that the taxpayers will have a direct line of accountability … i.e. someone who will have to answer directly for everything it does.

Of course like so much of Haley’s oft-touted “government restructuring,” that’s not going to happen … not as long as the “legislative tyranny” is still calling the shots.

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